The Rhody Beat Plays On
The debut of “Meet Me at THE MET” has special meaning for those of us of a certain age, that age being just out of the Age of Aquarius. The new, one-hour program featuring local, regional and national music artists aired last Thursday for the first time with featured guests Roomful of Blues and more than hinted that it was going to be about the music we came of age to. Created by Rudy Cheeks and Nate Flynn, in cooperation with Rhode Island PBS, the program will showcase the best Rhode Island music from the past 40 years. It will consist of live musical performances and interviews recorded at The Met Café in Pawtucket.
“What we are trying to accomplish is to capture and unleash the energy and excitement of live musical performances in front of an enthusiastic audience,” said Rudy Cheeks in a press release. “Through this experience, we hope viewers will feel an appreciation for the creative community in Rhode Island and maybe help build the careers of local and regional musical artists.”
The initial series of 13 shows will air on Thursday nights at 10 through December on Rhode Island PBS. Each episode will rebroadcast on the following Saturday at 2:30 a.m. and Sunday at 11 p.m.
From a technical viewpoint, co-creator Nate Flynn believes advances in video technologies will give them a leg up on televised music performances in the past.
“Today's video technology allows live performances to be captured in a much truer way. Small HD cameras can get close to the stage without affecting the performance and that lets viewers experience the feeling of being up close in a club through their television,” said Flynn. “‘Meet Me at THE MET’ is shot so that all you see is the stage and performers. We want viewers to experience what it's like to be standing 10 or 20 feet from the action on stage.”
Cheeks hopes that a long and healthy run for the show will allow him to show Rhode Islanders that the influence of the Ocean State on the music industry is longstanding and on-going. He doesn’t claim that the Talking Heads are a Rhode Island band, but they were very much part of the Providence art scene when they were here.
“I knew David, Chris and Tina when they lived in Providence, but the actual Talking Heads band actually started when they moved to New York around 1975. I know they identify themselves as a New York band but have a soft place in their hearts for Providence, where some of their earliest songs were written, and where they all met,” said Cheeks.
But the show is not all about nostalgia for the 1970s and 1980s.
The initial series of artists represents a wide variety of genres, popularity and experience, including some of today's most popular local artists, lesser known artists trying to make a name for themselves, and some of Rhode Island's better known musical veterans. As the show moves along, Cheeks hopes to feature some of the people from Rhode Island who made music locally and nationally, like the remaining members of the Cowsills, who Cheeks considers more than a lucky novelty band that hit it big.
“The Cowsills are real musicians and first-rate musicians and songwriters,” he said, “and that includes Richard and Barry who have both passed on. And they had huge hits; ‘The Rain, the Park and Other Things’ was number one on the charts. They belong in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. They have worked outside of the family band [John is the drummer in the Beach Boys] and Susan has a great band that works out of New Orleans. There is so much more to them than just the Cowsills family band and they continue to produce great music.”
Cheeks himself was a local legend in the ’70s and ’80s as a member of the Fabulous Motels and the Young Adults, bands that are hard to categorize by genre.
“I really don’t know how to describe us,” said Cheeks. “We were a mixture of comedy and good musicianship. We were like Spike Jones or the Bonzo Dog Band. Spike Jones had some great musicians but they chose to do this comedy thing, too. That’s the only thing I can compare us to.”
Co-producer Nate Flynn, a native of North Smithfield, has an equally impressive music résumé. He is an international award-winning communications professional with experience in concert production, photography, and video and multimedia production. As a key member of the Brown Student Concert Agency, he worked stage crew for some of the world's most famous artists, including Bob Marley, Blondie, U2, Dire Straits, the Kinks, Emmylou Harris, The Ramones, Dave Brubeck, Carly Simon, Pat Metheny, Bonnie Raitt, and Little Feat, among many others.
Cheeks is also known for other endeavors, like the Comediac bad movie nightclub act that was a precursor to “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” on television, and was a radio host on several Rhode Island radio stations. He co-authors the popular Phillipe and Jorge column in the Providence Phoenix and is a member of the Pawtucket Hall of Fame. Both Flynn and Cheeks are founding members of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame and serve on the Board of Directors.
Of course, no discussion of popular music in Rhode Island can afford to leave out Rich Lupo, the owner of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel and The Met.
“I feel happy to have my memories of all the music in the ’70s and all the musical changes and events and the evolution of it. It’s tragic there is no documentation of it,” said Lupo. “We had these bands in the ’70s that were a mixture of blues, rhythm and blues, and rock. Music goes in and out of style. Many of the groups around now – Deer Tick, Joe Fletcher and the Silks – are similar to the groups from the ’70s. If someone documents these bands, it will be a history of music.”
Upcoming “Meet Me at the Met” shows will include Mark Cutler and Sarah Lupo on Oct. 10; Allysen Callery, Vudu Sister and Sara Azriel on Oct. 17; Rizzz and Tim Flynn’s Area 51 on Oct. 24; and Northern Lands and Comic Book on Oct. 31.
The series website, meetmeatthemet.net, features more information about the series, the host and production team, funding and volunteer opportunities, as well as the artists who will appear in the series.
The premiere of “Meet Me at the Met” came just after the death of Susan Farmer, which made it a bittersweet moment for Cheeks.
“Susan ‘Muffy’ Farmer was a longtime dear friend of mine. She was an inspiration. Back in the 1980s she and Phillipe & Jorge [Chip Young and myself] sponsored a bowling tournament for a couple of years to benefit the Fund for Community Progress and we had a lot of fun doing that,” said Cheeks. “And she was instrumental in RI-PBS partnering with us on the ‘Meet Me at the Met’ television show, even though she had long retired from the job as CEO there. I can’t tell you how much my life was enriched by her friendship. Her good works and positive influence in Rhode Island continues to resonate and shine.”